It's a brisk morning on 10th Street and there's already a line waiting for Ting Wong to unlock its doors at 8 a.m.: a Chinese businessman in his crisp dark suit, two young women from Shenzhen who've come to study in Philadelphia, a family with two young kids, and me.
Welcome to breakfast in Chinatown, where the hungry are always willing to wait for the cold-weather comfort of a bowl of congee.
This porridge of rice cooked to an almost oatmeal-like mush is a classic Chinese breakfast. And though I have a couple of other congee haunts nearby (M Kee, and Heung Fa Chun for my no-frills take-out cups), no one in Chinatown does it quite as well as Ting Wong.
Multiple kinds of rice are used to achieve the silkiness of its misty white puree and a light jasmine rice fragrance that rises up from spoonfuls between flickers of ginger, ground white pepper, and a steaming pot of tea on the table nearby. A complex seafood broth lends the congee's base a subtle depth of umami.
Even so, every bowl of congee is completely different, depending on what ingredients are added. The most popular choices are seafood, either the squid-shrimp combo or flounder fillets. Connoisseurs go for live frogs (though they're too bony for me.)
I'm partial to the roast duck. It gets chopped into boneless little chunks whose tender meat separates easily into fleshy bits, and the deeply browned nubs of skin infuse every spoonful with a profound duckiness that glows on my taste buds with savory satisfaction all morning long.